Four more Churches of Christ that opened worship-service roles to women were recently added to the list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ maintained by Wiley Clarkson at Where the Spirit Leads.
Churches in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas join other Churches of Christ all over the country that no longer completely prohibit women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the worship service. The vast majority continue to do so, but a growing number, after studying the scripture, changed.
Only about 3-4% of Christianity completely prohibits women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in their worship service, the lions share of which is the Churches of Christ. In other words, the Churches of Christ is essentially alone in doing this. It has been so for a long time. For good reason.
Congregations are waking up to the harm that sex discrimination does to young girls and women, to the loss to the church of women not serving with their gifts, and to the violation of scripture done by requiring women and girls not to speak, lead, or actively serve.
According to recent updates and other reporting, four newly added congregations began having women speak and actively serve, at least to some extent, in their worship service, two of them in the last few months and one a few years ago:
1. North Atlanta Church of Christ (Dunwoody, Georgia)
Reporting: “women were now included in all areas of leading worship, teaching, and service except for the eldership.”
2. South Baton Rouge Church of Christ (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Reporting: “women were now included in leading worship and teaching and all positions of service except for preaching and eldership.”
3. Robinson Church of Christ (Robinson, Texas)
Reporting: “Women lead in worship as needed and gifted, teach in adult bible classes, serve as deacons.”
4. North Davis Church of Christ (Arlington, Texas)
Reporting: “women welcome to use their gifts in leading public worship (leading prayer, giving communion talks, leading singing, and/or reading scripture); women welcome to use their gifts and knowledge in biblical instruction, to teach all age groups regardless of gender in bible classes”
Their web-sites include helpful study materials and instructive observations. South Baton Rouge Church of Christ published helpful resources here and here. North Atlanta Church of Christ’s web site includes a study guide by Dr. Ken Cukrowski of Abilene Christian University. North Davis Church of Christ published a video of their elders announcing their decision to lift restrictions on women in their worship service: here.
Elder / Preacher Decisions
Although these churches made significant changes, and should be commended, it is noticeable that they did not all appear to make progress relative to the elder role. It is worth making two observations on that aspect.
One is that women should be named elders. There is an article providing an overview of some of the reasons it is improper to block women from becoming elders or shepherds of a congregation at the following link: “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),”
A second is that, from reading materials and listening to announcements, some congregations are reaching decision fatigue after studying the worship and teaching roles question and are “running out of gas” when considering the elders/preaching question or are sometimes “splitting the baby,” using the elders/preacher role as a means to seem balanced and to mollify members (meaning some are saying yes to women speaking/teaching and no to them serving as elder/preacher).
I am not referring to the four congregations highlighted in this article, but I am referring to my impressions having read the materials of most all the Churches of Christ that have made this change and published their materials.
My impression is that the elders/preacher question is not receiving the attention it deserves in many instances, simply out of fatigue or out of using the elder/preacher question as a bargaining chip. Often, the elder/preacher question does not seem as immediate.
The question of women speaking/teaching in the worship service and in Sunday School is plenty challenging in our context. Adding to it the question of elders/preachers, itself a challenging issue, can seem overwhelming in some instances.
Lumping in Preacher with Elder Departs From Churches of Christ Structure
One of the factors suggesting the elder/preacher question is receiving short-shrift consideration is that restricting the preaching role along with the elder role departs from the Churches of Christ structure. It is easy to lump them in together because many others do it, but it violates the way Churches of Christ view the role of preacher in relation to the role of elder.
It is a Southern Baptist-type structure that lumps the preacher in with overseer / elder, as they designate their preacher a “pastor,” which is the equivalent of our elder, and they typically do not have separate elders.
In other words, the Churches of Christ view of preacher has never restricted the preacher based on “husband of one wife” because the preacher was not considered an “elder” or “overseer.” Only the elders are such. The preacher is an evangelist, proclaimer, messenger, or teacher and thus was allegedly restricted to men by way of 1 Cor 14:34-35 or 1 Tim 2:12, not because of “husband of one wife.” And the preacher does not give “final” teaching in the Churches of Christ way of doing things. The preacher is not an overseer, is not in charge. Only the elders are the overseers.
So, even interpreting 1 Tim 2:12 as prohibiting women from “final-type authoritative teaching,” women would not be prohibited from preaching in the Churches of Christ. Only elders can have the authority to give that kind of word to the congregation in the Churches of Christ.
But preachers get lumped in with elders in some Baptist-type doctrines on women and when trying to make people comfortable when making this decision. This is improper for lots of reasons.
If you are going to lump preachers in with elders, then you are departing from Churches of Christ doctrine and church-governance structure generally. And, if you lump them in together, there are other requirements in 1 Tim and Titus 1 that you are binding on preachers and people (like deacons, lay people in the church, and guests) who might preach from time to time, such as they must be married, have children (1 Tim and Titus 1 say “children,” as in must have children and more than one of them), etc.
And you are going to disqualify a whole set of people, young preachers, youth ministers, deacons, and others from preaching in the Churches of Christ by thereby requiring them to meet all the purported elder requirements if you treat them like a check-list (like “husband of one wife” (must be a man, currently married, etc.), “children” (must have children, more than one of them), etc.). Preacher should not be lumped in with elder under any circumstances here.
Often Smarter to Wait Due to Decision Fatigue and Tendency to Split the Baby
In any event, it would be much better to decide the worship/teaching roles question and postpone the preacher/elder question until there is less decision fatigue if there is going to be a negative decision on it, as it, too, is serious sex-discrimination, contrary to scripture.
Congratulations to these four congregations.
No doubt this takes courage and significant time, care, and effort. Thank you.
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Sources & Notes
Picture by StockSnap from Pixabay.
Updated: 11/30: primarily edited sentence structure and elder/preacher section.
3-4%: See Notes and Comments in Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Decline Worsens, 2400 a Month Depart, Treatment of Women & Girls Factor,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 13, 2019).
“harm that sex discrimination does to young girls”: See discussion Gardner, Church of Christ Decline Worsens, ibid., and sources cited therein.
“violation of scripture done by requiring women and girls not to speak, lead, or actively serve”: ibid.; also see sources cited below regarding scripture.
For more on the scripture relating to this issue, see:
Start here for a discussion regarding scripture on this issue: Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 22, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:12, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: 1 Timothy 2:12, “Teach or Usurp Authority” (Part 3),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 9, 2019).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Timothy 2:12 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018).
For a discussion regarding female elders, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 3, 2019).
For scriptural discussions from various Churches of Christ, see these two articles: see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: List and Links (Part 1),” AuthenticTheology.com (March 26, 2019); and Steve Gardner, “Another 10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Their Reasons & a Quiz,” AuthenticTheology.com (April 24, 2019).
I appreciate the sentiment that lessening sex-discrimination is good, but the approach of prohibiting females from being an overseer or preaching but lifting other restrictions in many ways worsens the situation in most CoC congregations.
First, such an approach is a functional adjustment (less discrimination) rather than a meaningful identification of the sin of sex discrimination or change of heart from such sinful, immoral, and harmful sex discrimination against women and girls. And it is an adjustment in which such sex discrimination continues, just less.
Second, it moves the congregation’s discrimination against girls and women from an unthinking mimicking and carrying on of a normalized tradition to a worse heart problem for all or much of the congregation: a knowing and intentional decision to discriminate against girls and women.
Before, the congregation had a negligence problem (mimicking what was normalized).
Changing to lift some restrictions while deciding there’s no justification for female elders or preachers, the congregation as a whole now has a worse problem: knowing-and-intentional decision in favor of sex-discrimination.
Pretty awful for a large group of people to make a decision like that, one in favor of knowing, intentional, and deliberate sex-discrimination, one that seriously impacts young girls. And it becomes much more difficult to sit in the pew with people who make that kind of decision.
Alternative approaches like deciding to lift restrictions on girls and women speaking, reading scripture, leading singing, etc., etc., while holding in abeyance a decision on female elders and preachers until it is not an abstract question (e.g., when it is time to elect new elders), I think is not ideal but can see it being necessary some places.
Much better than advocating lifting restrictions while also advocating actively deciding to keep other restrictions on females. Unfortunately, we see lots of advocacy for the Southern Baptist Convention approach of prohibiting female elders, preachers, and the like, that packages some functional improvement for the CoC with continued sex discrimination. We have seen some pretty awful stuff out of the SBC and others with such an approach.
It’s a sin and sex discrimination to prohibit women from preaching, serving as an overseer / elder, or any other speaking or other role or function in the church. It harms little girls for the long term to prohibit women this way. If I understand your question correctly, misbehavior. 1 Cor 14 asks married women in Corinth not to ask disruptive (non-submissive) questions. 1 Tim 2:12 asserts Paul does not permit a woman to teach false, authoritative doctrine in a way that domineers over a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful.
Engaging in sex discrimination against women, whether limited to overseers or broader, harms little girls and women, oppresses them, is not love, doesn’t treat them as a neighbor or as others are treated, is injustice, is not mercy, blocks women from serving (loving) God, blocks women from serving (loving) their neighbor with their all, …. Is more biblical instruction needed? There’s plenty of Biblical instruction for female elders.
That someone believes God told them to discriminate against little girls and women does not make what they do any less harmful to little girls, any less a sin, any less sex discrimination, any less … (see above) …. just like if someone believes God told them to discriminate against black people does not make what they do any less harmful to black people, any less a sin, any less race discrimination, any less ….